On 2 July 1914, violent thunderstorms heralded the publication in London of the first Vorticist magazine, Blast. Since January that year, there had been the threat of insurrection from the Ulster rebels; 937 strikes; 107 arson attacks by suffragettes (who also slashed Velásquez and Sargent paintings in the National Gallery); only four days earlier the Archduke Franz Ferdinand had been assassinated. The world was gearing up for the Great War, but Blast was evidence that a major campaign was already underway, and it advertised its confrontational style with a puce-and-black colour scheme and parallel columns of hates and loves, 'blasted' and 'blessed'. The bombastic birth of Vorticism occurs more than 600 pages into Helen Carr's Verse Revolutionaries, a 'group biography' which chiefly follows Ezra Pound and the Imagists during the period that inspired Virginia Woolf's famous aperçu, 'On or about December 1910, human character changed.' But by the time we get to Vorticism, with which Pound was hoping to render Imagism - now led by his arch-enemy Amy Lowell - passé, a question irresistibly presents itself. When a poet has made it his life's work to change a period's style, and pursues his aim by means of confrontation and relentless promotion of his own work and that of his coterie, does style really mean much more than self-advancement?
LRB 25 March 2010 | PDF Download